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Groundhog Day

Six more weeks of winter? Groundhogs differ on forecasts

Punxsutawney Phil, generally considered the most reputable groundhog, is predicting more wintery conditions.

AMERICAN METEOROLOGISTS WERE in the hot seat last week for erroneously forecasting blizzards that shut down New York, but on Monday, it was groundhogs that clashed over the onset of spring.

It is one of the more bizarre folklore traditions still practised in parts of contemporary America: groundhogs that emerge from their burrows on February 2 indicate whether spring will come early.

Those who see their shadows spell six more weeks of winter.

And just like weather forecasters, furry marmots in the northeast couldn’t agree which way the wind’s blowing.

Punxsutawney Phil, Ron Ploucha Groundhog Club handler Ron Ploucha holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, as co-handler John Griffiths rubs his head. AP Photo / Gene J. Puskar AP Photo / Gene J. Puskar / Gene J. Puskar

In Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, where the tradition has taken place since 1887, Phil the groundhog apparently saw his shadow and retreated back to his burrow, spelling six more weeks of winter.

“Forecasts abound on the Internet, but, I, Punxsutawney Phil am still your best bet,” said Inner Circle of Punxsutawney president Bill Deeley, giving credit to the animal.

In Manchester, Connecticut, a second groundhog, Chuckles, also saw his shadow, corroborating Punxsutawney Phil’s forecast.

But New York, where Mayor Bill de Blasio dropped a groundhog at last year’s ceremony — which may or may not have contributed to the animal’s death two weeks later — begged to differ.

Staten Island Advance / YouTube

The city’s official groundhog Chuck predicted an early bloom, keeping his distance from the mayor.

“Chuck says early spring! Chuck, I want to thank you for this good news,” de Blasio said during a ceremony at Staten Island Zoo.

A medical exam of the animal dropped by de Blasio last year revealed it died of internal injuries, but zoo officials said it was unclear if they were caused by the fall from de Blasio’s arms. Zoo officials didn’t make the death public for months.

The accident became a source of teasing for the mayor, and de Blasio himself suggested Monday that “teams of animal behavior experts and scientists have consulted from all over the country” to keep the groundhog safe.

In Wisconsin, the mayor of Sun Prairie might not be getting too close to a groundhog again.

Associated Press / YouTube

During a celebration Monday, the handler of Jimmy the groundhog held the animal next the face of Mayor Jonathan Freund, and Jimmy promptly bit down on the mayor’s left ear.

At the main ceremony in Pennsylvania, the rain kept some revelers away, with state police estimating the crowd at around 11,000, slightly smaller than in recent years when upward of 15,000 attended.

Despite the German legend, Phil’s handlers don’t wait to see if he sees his shadow — as he likely would not have on such an overcast day. Instead, the Inner Circle decide on the forecast ahead of time and announce it on Gobbler’s Knob, a tiny hill in the town for which the groundhog is named, about 65 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

Records going back to 1887 show Phil has now predicted more winter 102 times while forecasting an early spring just 17 times. There are no records for the remaining years.

© AFP 2015additional reporting by Associated Press

Read: Happy Groundhog Day! But what’s it all about? >

Opinion: Get used to ‘freak weather’ – that’s climate change, folks >

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